TE Jason Freeman will join QB Scott Milanovich in Berlin for the 2000 NFLEL season
The National Football League's ambitious venture across the Atlantic, the NFL Europe League, used to be called the World League of American Football. Now the league is contemplating another name change: the Kurt Warner League.
Okay, maybe not just yet. But by making one of the most stunning and sudden emergences in NFL history last year, league and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner jumped to the top of the list of NFLEL alumni. Warner, the out-of-nowhere St. Louis Rams standout, was the NFLEL's top passer in 1998 and is now a shining symbol of what that European experience can mean for a player's career.
Seven current Buccaneers are going to spend their spring of 2000 across the pond trying to find that out. Those seven Bucs – CB Curtis Anderson, TE Jason Freeman, LB Bobbie Howard, CB Deshone Mallard, QB Scott Milanovich, RB Aaron Stecker and LB Shawn Stuckey – are part of a group of 109 currently rostered NFL players who were allocated to the Europe league this weekend. All 109 found out on Friday and Saturday what teams they would be playing for this spring.
Milanovich will battle the Cincinnati Bengals' Eric Kresser for the starting quarterback position for the Berlin Thunder in hopes of duplicating what Warner did for the Amsterdam Admirals in 1998 - 165 completions in 326 attempts for 2,101 yards and 15 touchdowns, all league highs. What the NFLEL could offer Milanovich is significant playing time, something he hasn't had since breaking Boomer Esiason's career passing records at Maryland. Yet, Milanovich has shown enough to win a job as the Buccaneers' third quarterback each of the past four seasons.
Milanovich will be joined in Berlin by TE Jason Freeman, who had a strong 1999 training camp with the Buccaneers as a rookie out of Oklahoma. Freeman did not play during the '99 regular season but was re-signed by the Bucs after the season. Considered a fine pass-catching tight end, he also heads to Europe with hopes of significant playing time.
Anderson and Stecker spent large parts of the 1999 NFL campaign on Tampa Bay's practice squad while Howard (Tampa Bay) and Mallard (Philadelphia) were in camps but not on rosters during the regular season. Anderson is headed to the Amsterdam Admirals, Howard to the Frankfurt Galaxy and Mallard to the Rhein Fire. Stuckey, who has regular season experience with the New England Patriots but was off NFL rosters last year, will try to start his career anew with Anderson in Amsterdam.
All seven Buccaneers headed to the NFLEL know the tradeoff: a full season of in-game experience, many of them as starters, versus an off-season of instruction in Buccaneer mini-camps and practices. Still, the call of the Europe League can be strong when one considers the springboard it has been for such players as Seattle QB Jon Kitna, Chicago QB Jim Miller, New Orleans DT La'Roi Glover and Cincinnati DT Tom Barndt. Oh, and did we mention Kurt Warner?